News brief from Public News Service: July 31, 2019


Iowa voters want presidential candidates to address climate change

DES MOINES, Iowa (Public News Service) – Democratic presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa are fielding lots of questions about how they plan to address climate change.

Climate scientists attribute the burning of fossil fuels to global warming, which in turn causes extreme weather events such as the spring floods that have caused more than $2 billion in damage to Iowa towns and farms this year. Environmental science professor David Courard-Hauri at Drake University is an advocate of adding more renewables to the state’s grid.

“We’re at the point that buying renewable energy costs less than just buying the coal to run a coal plant, let alone building new coal,” Courard-Hauri said, “and those prices continue to go down.”

He said technology advancements are allowing people to develop renewable energy – not because they’re being paid or subsidized, but because it’s cheaper. Iowa is one of the nation’s top five states for wind-energy production but ranks 39th for solar installations.

The city of Davenport has for the first time initiated discussions about building a floodwall or levee because of damage from spring storms. Starting last summer, Iowa has experienced its wettest 12-month period since official records began in 1895, and climate modeling shows that Iowa’s number of days for summer temperatures in the 90s will double in the next few decades.

Courard-Hauri said it doesn’t matter if candidates call it climate change or extreme weather; the shift is hard on people.

“We have so many systems that are dependent on the weather,” he said. “Agriculture is dependent upon fertile soils being in the area, where you get a certain amount of rain, and it’s really hard when the place that you grew up when that’s just not the same as it used to be.”

Iowa is second only to California in U.S. food production, but a 2016 Iowa State University study showed only 40% of Iowa farmers believe that human activity is implicated in climate change, even while two-thirds said they believe that climate change is occurring. That’s far below the 62% of the general population that agrees global warming is mostly human-caused.

The ISU study is online at store.extension.iastate.edu.

Reporting by Roz Brown, Iowa Bureau


Virginians on alert after Capital One data breach

McLEAN, Va. – Capital One announced on Monday that a hacker accessed about 100 million credit-card applications filled out between 2005 and 2019. What if yours was among them?

The hacker also stole 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 bank-account numbers. In the aftermath of the breach, cybersecurity expert Marty Puranik, chief executive of cloud-hosting company Atlantic.net, said folks need to be even more vigilant to protect against fraud and identity theft. He recommended signing up for an online service that provides credit monitoring.

“It will tell you how many inquiries are coming in against your credit,” he said. “The reason that’s important is, if you start seeing inquiries against your credit by companies you’ve never applied for a credit card with, then most likely somebody’s trying to take advantage of your identity.”

Puranik said it’s also important to help family and friends who aren’t as tech-savvy to make sure they take the same precautions.

McLean-based Capital One has 56 branches and dozens of ATMs across Virginia. The hack appears to be one of the largest data breaches ever to hit a financial services firm.

The data breach involved about 100 million people in the United States and 6 million in Canada. When it was announced, Capital One emphasized that no credit card numbers or log-in credentials were compromised, but Puranik said that doesn’t shield anyone from what is known as “secondary fraud.”

“Nefarious people could also use this data to call, write, email you pretending to be an authority figure,” he said, “trying to sell you credit monitoring or using the data that’s already available to get additional data about you.”

Puranik advised people never to give financial or identifying information to a stranger, and to only use official phone numbers for banks or credit cards from your credit monitoring service’s website.

Capital One said the hacker was able to get such data as phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth and self-reported income.

Reporting by Diane Bernard, Virginia Bureau


Large algal bloom grows in Lake Erie

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A midsummer algal bloom again is turning western Lake Erie’s waters green. While it’s predicted to become fairly severe, researchers say it could be worse.

The severity of this year’s bloom is forecast to be a 7.5 on a scale of zero to 10.

Laura Johnson, director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, said that’s larger than last year, but smaller than in 2015 when a bloom exceeded the scale at 10.5. She said this year’s bloom started to form a couple of weeks ago.

“It was fairly mild, not much there,” she said, “but it seems like it’s really shown up with this heatwave that came through. It’s moving around, it’s growing in some spots and not in others, or it’s starting to get mixed into the water column in different ways. Any of these things are possible.”

Johnson said the current algal bloom stretches from Maumee Bay north along the Michigan coast, and about 30 miles east along the Ohio coast to the Portage River. The bloom is expected to stay confined to the western basin and peak in September.

Algal blooms are connected to phosphorus runoff from agriculture. Given the amount of rainfall this spring, Johnson said, a much larger bloom would be expected. However, unusually wet weather last fall and into the spring reduced the amount of phosphorus fertilizer farmers were able to apply.

“If we can win one thing from how difficult this year has been for our agricultural community,” she said, “that is that we have a better understanding of how important the application of phosphorus is from one given year on what is actually happening months later, down the road.”

Johnson said the current dynamics indicate that applying nutrients below the surface is a promising practice for farmers.

“So, trying to get that phosphorus or nitrogen off of the surface of the soil and injected into the soil more, where it has more interaction and it’s in the root zones of these plants, that’s going to be effective,” she said. “That’s what this year is telling us is, is that playing around with those application rates is really important.”

Toxins in algal blooms are dangerous for people and animals and hamper local fishing, boating, and other recreational activities. Toxic blooms can be costly for cities that need to treat drinking water.

The bloom forecast is online at tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov.

Reporting by Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Ohio Bureau


Feds reject Utah waiver request for partial Medicaid expansion

SALT LAKE CITY – The Trump administration has rejected Utah’s waiver request for enhanced federal funding for a partial expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

Advocates of full Medicaid expansion say it’s an opportunity for state lawmakers to fulfill the wishes of voters, who passed a referendum last November expanding Medicaid to some 150,000 low-income Utahns. State lawmakers modified the referendum results to cover fewer people but needed a federal waiver to implement their plan.

Stacy Stanford, a health-policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project, said lawmakers included a fallback plan in case their waiver was denied.

“With the fiscal adjustments that we put into this fallback plan, the full extension is more than solvent,” she said. “They’re paying three times more now. There’s no need for that; there’s no need to delay. They should move forward with pursuing the full expansion.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand Medicaid with the federal government picking up most of the tab. But after Utah legislators failed to approve an expansion, a coalition of health-care advocates gathered signatures and put the expansion on last year’s ballot.

However, lawmakers set aside the referendum and passed House Bill 96, a limited expansion that would have covered 90,000 people.

Despite lawmakers’ protests that a full expansion would obligate the state for future costs, Stanford said the referendum contains a fiscally responsible way to pay for it.

“We passed a funding mechanism with the ballot initiative,” she said. “There is a small increase in the non-food sales tax, and so there’s more than enough through that sales tax to cover the projected enrollees.”

Stanford said the next step for her group is a rally Thursday afternoon at the Capitol Rotunda in Salt Lake City.

“We were in the middle of the public comment period of the waiver when it was rejected,” she said. “We’re sitting on 6,000 public comments – and so, we’re going to display these messages from Utahns that are calling for full expansion.”

According to House Bill 96, legislators must now decide whether to accept the full expansion or call a special session to come up with a different plan.

Details of HB 96 are online at le.utah.gov.

Reporting by Mark Richardson, Utah Bureau



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